Tag Archives: Sam Bradford

Did Eagles Make Correct Decision Releasing Chip Kelly?

After only three years as head coach, the Philadelphia Eagles “released” Chip Kelly on Tuesday night.  What is most interesting, however, is that the team and media used “released” instead of “fired.”  Was the separation mutual?  Did Chip Kelly want to leave Philadelphia?  Or, did Eagles owner Jeffrie Lurie realize that Chip Kelly was taking the team in the wrong direction, and he wanted to release Kelly before things got worse?

One thing is for certain: Kelly’s role as general manager for the Eagles organization was getting in the way of Kelly’s role as head coach, and that situation had to change.

In Lurie’s first news conference since releasing Chip Kelly, he said that he “did not offer the opportunity for Kelly to be coach but not have control of the personnel.”  Therefore, Lurie was also not satisfied with how Kelly was coaching the team, too, even though limiting Kelly’s power as general manager was a primary factor.

The decision to release Kelly was based both on bad coaching and bad general manager decisions Kelly made.  Lurie said the decision to release Kelly was a “clear and important decision,” and, in making the decision he used a “three-year evaluation,” asking, “what’s the trajectory” before stating, “the end result was mediocrity.”

Lurie also stated that he wants “a collaborative approach between coaching and personnel.”  Releasing Chip Kelly was the only way to fix both problems simultaneously as the team had nowhere to go but down with Chip Kelly as head coach going forward.

The fact that Chip Kelly got rid of talented players and did not replace them with adequate talent is one of the major issues for Eagles fans.  After all, the argument can be made that all Kelly had to do was tweak the defense while his offense exploded with efficiency during his first two years as head coach.

Now, the team is stuck with players like DeMarco Murray – removing him is expensive – and Kiko Alonso, who has done nothing this season but is most likely staying because Kelly traded LeSean McCoy for him in the offseason.

Kelly has left the the outside receiver position in shambles, and that mistake could take years to fix.  Riley Cooper should not be on the team.  Josh Huff has shown nothing to prove he can be an elite receiver in this league.  Nelson Agholor had a bad year, and, although it is too soon to adequately judge him, he seems to have a long way to go.

In addition, the team is stuck with an unresolved question at quarterback.  Sam Bradford does not seem to be the player who will take the Eagles far into the playoffs – if he can even get into the playoffs at all – and, regardless of what happens, Philadelphia lost a second-round draft pick in this year’s draft to acquire him.  With Kelly’s poor draft choices in the past considered, the pick may not have been too important before the firing; however, the new coach may have been able to do something effective with that second-round pick.

Will the new coach even want to keep Sam Bradford, who is free to leave in free agency at the end of the season?  If the answer is no, the Eagles would be worse off for letting another player go with little to no compensation in return, again.  Therefore, after looking at Chip Kelly’s personnel moves, the team is much better off without him.

Looking at him from the coaching perspective, moreover as an offensive-minded coach, further explains why his release is a good decision for the team.  The offense’s production has decreased every year since his first year, and the blame focuses directly on Kelly for getting rid of the Eagles core offensive playmakers during his first two years.  He believed his gimmicky scheme was better than talent.  He was wrong.

As a result, he is leaving the team in a much worse state now than than when he became head coach just three years ago, and it is amazing that it only took three years to set the Eagles on a rebuilding phase that could take years to complete.

Under that undeniable fact, finding a reason why he should still be head coach is extremely difficult.

He was not a personable coach to his players or the majority of people around him, so, when the hard times came and losses started rolling in, he didn’t have relationships built with players that he could use to turn things around.  As reported by Phialdelphia media, few hugs and teary-eyed conversations between players and Chip have occurred before or after the release, and, since he was fired after practice on Tuesday, the timing of his firing and the lack of players surrounding him in that moment represents how awkward he was at communicating to his players.

The team checked out on him.

This situation represents how giving too much power too quickly before receiving adequate results can hurt a team for years in advance.  He took a 4-12 team and turned them into a 10-6 team in his first season but lost his first – and only – playoff game, and the team steadily regressed from that point onward.  He should not have been given total power based on those results alone.

Now, Eagles fans have to hope that the next coach can better utilize the players Kelly brought in and somehow get around a massive rebuilding process.  In addition, the firing means that Howie Roseman is moving back to a more powerful role in personnel decisions again.  Is that good or bad?  He has made some good and bad decisions in the past, but, at the least, he will be an improvement over Kelly.   Who wouldn’t be an improvement over Kelly as general manager?

Eagles fans can celebrate now because they have their team back after the tyrannical rule of Chip Kelly has ended.  Most Philadelphia fans seem shocked – considering the timing – but pleased by the overall decision.  While listening to Philadelphia sports radio after the firing, no one seems upset, and, instead, a mass celebration rides the airwaves of Philadelphia.

One thing is for certain: the Eagles are in a much better situation without Chip Kelly as head coach.

Questions/Comments? @sean__cumming

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles Leaders Need To Step Up On Sunday Night Football

Some people will tell you that the Eagles Sunday matchup against the Cardinals isn’t important, but that statement is only half the truth.  If the Eagles lose to the Cardinals, they still have a good chance to win the division by beating the Redskins and Giants in the last two weeks of the season.  However, if the Eagles beat the Cardinals, they may not have to worry about the outcome of their week 17 matchup against the Giants, their only road game left in the regular season.  The Cardinals have been given an advantage from the NFL because the game was flexed into primetime.  The two teams were supposed to play at 1:00 ET, 10:00 in Arizona, before the Patriots game, but, after the Eagles beat New England, they were flexed to the 8:30 ET slot – 5:30 in Arizona.  Thanks a lot, NFL, for taking that advantage away.  Nonetheless, the Eagles need to be tested by the best before their final two-game stretch against division rivals.  Which Eagles players need to have big performances?

*Sam Bradford:  Sam Bradford’s contract is over at the end of the season, and Chip Kelly, no matter how much he tries to deny it, is technically the GM.  What will Kelly do?  Is Bradford worth a franchise tag or contract extension? Bradford has three weeks left in the regular season to make an argument for the extension, and a decision will have to be made soon.  Right now, the franchise tag seems destined for his future, but is Bradford the quarterback who is going to take the Eagles to the Super Bowl at some point?  Is Kelly willing to risk heading into next year’s season with his fourth starting quarterback in four years?  Bradford has improved during the season, but have we seen the ceiling or floor of his production?  Most Eagles fans seem to hope that someone better is out there, but there’s slim pickings at the quarterback position these days.  Is Colin Kaepernick a better option?  Will Bradford shine against a solid Cardinals defense and prove he’s worth keeping?  He threw the deep ball well last week.  Will he be given the opportunity again this week?  Bradford has a lot to prove over these next three weeks.

*Darren Sproles:  The Eagles’ backfield is finally evolving into the triple-threat attack Chip Kelly wanted since trading away LeSean McCoy.  Sure. the media makes money by talking about how DeMarco Murray is losing rushing attempts, but, in my opinion, the triple-threat attack is what Kelly has been working towards since he started coaching in Philadelphia.  Therefore, arguing about or discussing a running back controversy is a waste of space and time.  What is worth discussing, however, is that, throughout the more equal distribution used recently, Sproles has been benefitting more than any other running back.  He has led the team in rushing yards in both of the past two games, and he has the team’s only rushing touchdown since Ryan Matthews scored one in week 10.

*Fletcher Cox:  If there’s one player on the Eagles team who deserves to be in the Pro Bowl, Cox is the first person who comes to mind.  This guy is the real deal, and, even though he is a defensive lineman, he has literally won games for the team this season.  After the Bills game, the always colorfully outspoken Rex Ryan, the son of ex-Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, said, “I was laughing when I saw him being compared to Jerome Brown, but I’m not laughing now,” after Cox recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and the team’s only sack.  For the year, his 6.5 sacks are tied for the lead on the team with Brandon Graham, and he is tied for the lead in forced fumbles, too.  He is ranked second on the team in fumbles recovered.  Cox will need to put constant pressure on Carson Palmer and stop Cardinals rookie running back David Johnson from getting past the Eagles defensive line.  Cox is the leader of the defensive line.

*Malcolm Jenkins:  Jenkins is the leader of the secondary, and the defensive backfield’s ability to create turnovers and limit receivers have been crucial to winning this season.  His 99-yard interception return off Tom Brady two weeks ago broke a 14-14 tie and sparked the Eagles towards two more unanswered touchdowns to give the Eagles a 35-14 lead.  As a whole, the Eagles secondary has 9 of the Eagles 15 interceptions this season, and the Eagles rank fourth among all NFL teams in interceptions (Arizona ranks third with 16, though).  Earlier in the season, the Eagles defense ranked first in the league in interceptions and had an interception in six of their first nine games.  Then, they had a three-game stretch against the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Lions – all losses – in which they didn’t finish with one.  However, the team had two against the Patriots and one against the Bills – both wins – and are now 6-2 in games in which they have at least one interception.

*Nelson Agholor:  It took Agholor 13 games into his rookie season, but he finally scored a touchdown.  His end zone celebration, circling awkwardly around the end zone, during which he almost tripped himself, was both comical and a pleasure to watch after his 53-yard touchdown.  Hopefully he exorcised the rookie jitters with that celebration, and he is ready to play like a pro now.  The Eagles desperately need a wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically.  Considering that Agholor came into the 13th game of his rookie season with 163 yards and zero touchdowns, last week was the closest he has come to a breakout performance.  How will he follow up last week’s performance against an extremely tough Cardinals’ secondary?

*Eric Rowe:  The Cardinals have three wide receivers who can punish a defense: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown.  Rowe will need to bring his “A” game because, after good performances against the Patriots and Bills, this game will tell a lot about how prepared he is to take the next step in his rookie career.  He will not have a lot of extra assistance on Sunday Night Football against the three dangerous receivers.  The Eagles second-round draft pick struggled against Calvin Johnson in his first real game action of the season, but he has improved since then. Byron Maxwell missed Wednesday’s practice with a back injury, but he was back at practice Thursday; however, Rowe will still be alone in coverage frequently.  When the Eagles played the Cardinals in a 24-20 Cardinals win last season, Larry Fitzgerald finished the game with 160 yards and a touchdown, and John Brown had 119 yards and a touchdown.  Fitzgerald’s longest catch was 80 yards, and Brown’s was 75.  Michael Floyd has at least 100 yards receiving in four of his past five games.  The Eagles secondary have their work cut out for them.

*Chip Kelly:  Kelly saved his job when the Eagles beat the Patriots, and a two-game winning streak has quieted most critics.  However, I still have a problem with Kelly’s misuse of time.  To beat the Cardinals, Chip needs to manage the clock more effectively and keep the Cardinals offense off the field.  Snapping the ball with 15 or more seconds on the play clock throughout the game – even when playing with a lead – will not keep the Cardinals offense warming up the bench, which is what they need to be doing if the Eagles want to win this game.  Watching Kelly continue to use his up-tempo scheme when draining the clock is the better option is agonizingly frustrating, and that is the main reason I would still like the team to move on from Kelly at the end of the season.  Hopefully his use of time management changes.

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

Eagles-Dolphins Scouting Report

The Eagles (4-4) face the Dolphins (3-5) in the Eagles first one o’clock game since October 11th.  The Eagles are still fighting to stay competitive in the NFC East, where they, the Giants, and the Redskins are currently holding onto hope as they race to the finish line.  The Dolphins, on the other hand, are buried at the bottom of their division behind the Patriots (8-0) and Jets (5-3), and, with a 0-4 record in their division, they currently have the worst divisional record in the NFL.

The Dolphins immediate success after Dan Cambell became the interim head coach in Week 6 turned out to be a mirage because the games they won in convincing fashion were against the Tennessee Titans (2-6) and Houston Texans (3-5).  However, The Dolphins’ success and overall power ranking in the NFL came to a screeching crash when they met their two division rivals, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, the past two games and lost by a combined score of 24-69.

Run/Pass Ratio:  Although the Eagles had an even distribution of running and passing last week, their overall tendency this season is to pass the ball 58 percent of the time against 42 percent running.  The Dolphins pass the ball the third-most overall this season: 64 percent pass against 36 percent run.  However, that tendency has to take into account that the Dolphins did not run frequently until Dan Cambell became head coach for them four games ago.

Pass Defense:   Miami allows a 22nd ranked 97.1 opposing passer rating, with opposing quarterbacks throwing 16 touchdowns against 6 interceptions.  The Eagles allow a 6th ranked 82.2 passer rating, with opposing quarterbacks throwing 13 touchdowns against 12 interceptions.  The Eagles give up an average of 6.9 yards per attempt, ranking ninth in the league, while Miami has given up a 25th-ranked 7.8 yards.  The Dolphins, however, have given up less yards and touchdowns overall to wide receivers.  In addition, both teams rank low in receiving yards given to running backs: (Eagles, 222 yards, 30th) and (Dolphins, 263, 27th).

Advantage:  Eagles

Dolphins Quarterback:  Dolphin’s offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who was the Eagles quarterback coach in Chip Kelly’s first year as head coach, has had trouble developing Ryan Tannehill this season after he posted substantial numbers last year in Lazor’s first season as Miami’s offensive coordinator.  The Dolphins point production has dropped from 24.3 (11th last season) to 21.4 (21st).  Tannehill’s passer rating is down from 92.8 last season to 88.7. He has 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this season after just 12 interceptions last season.  He has not thrown a touchdown in the past two weeks after throwing six combined against Houston and Tennessee, highlighting the fact that he is definitely not matchup-proof and can be shut down by the better defenses in the league.

Eagles Quarterback:  Sam Bradford looked more comfortable in overtime than he has looked in high-pressure situations at anytime this season.  The deer-in-the-headlights look was gone, and he seemed confident.  He had trouble once again getting started, though.  His completion percentage (69.4%) was the second-highest of the season, but he also had just 36 attempts.  His one touchdown Sunday gives him two touchdowns over the past three weeks; however, he did not throw an interception for the first time since Week 4.  He is still tied for the fourth-most interceptions in the NFL – with 10 – behind Matthew Stafford (11), Andrew Luck (12), and Peyton Manning (13).  Although Tannehill, with 9 interceptions, is not far behind.  Bradford’s production in the first half of games, 821 yards, is in stark contrast to the second half of games: 1,236 yards. Therefore, I’ll halt in saying that he has turned the corner until he finally shows up at the beginning of a game.

Advantage:  Eagles

Dolphins Wide Receivers:  In the offseason, the Dolphins signed wide receivers DeVante Parker and Kenny Stills, along with tight end Jordan Cameron, in an effort to improve their passing offense.  However, it hasn’t worked out quite as planned.  Stills had a good year last season, with 63 receptions for 931 yards with New Orleans, but he is a boom-or-bust type of wide receiver this year – with more busts than boom.  For example, he had a good 46-yard reception Sunday, but his overall production this season (16 receptions, 279 yards) is below what should be expected of a No. 1 receiver this late in the season.  Cameron has had trouble reproducing the output he had in his 2013 breakout season with the Browns (80 receptions, 917 yards), when he ranked among the top tight ends in the league.  DaVante Parker has disappeared from the stat sheets since Week 3, and he is questionable to play against the Eagles due to a foot injury.  Jarvis Landry, who had the most targets against the Bills last week (12) and goes up against an Eagles interior that was just torched by Cole Beasley, may be the most important wide receiver to watch as he has been the most productive wide receiver recently.  Rishard Matthews was a big producer at the beginning of the season and has been producing close to Landry’s output, so he is worth keeping an eye on, too.  Greg Jennings is largely an afterthought.  The Dolphins do not really have a consistent No. 1 wide receiver, and any one of them could produce.

Eagles Wide Receivers:   Bradford targeted Jordan Matthews on 36.4 percent of his routes against the Cowboys, and Matthews had an impressive game, finishing with nine receptions for 133 yards and a touchdown.  The question now, however, is whether he can reproduce that performance again this season.  The last time he had over 100 yards receiving was in Week 1, when he produced 102 yards, and he has not finished a game with more than 59 yards since Week 2.  However, when he had his best game of the season in 2014 – 138 yards and two touchdowns against Carolina – he followed that with 107 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay the next week.  Miles Austin, who had the most receiving yards in the two games prior to Week 9, had just one reception for 27 yards.  Zach Ertz continues to be a good option for Sam Bradford as he saw six targets and caught five for 44 yards.  Josh Huff, however, barely produced (2 receptions, 10 yards), and it’s fair to wonder if he will have a breakout game again this season.  Nelson Agholor did not play against the Cowboys, and whether or not he will play will be important to monitor.  The Eagles don’t have a consistent No. 1 wide receiver, so the production could come from anywhere.  The most important aspect to watch from this position is whether Matthews can have another big game.

Advantage:  Even

Rush Defense:  The Dolphins allowed over 100 yards to both Bills’ running backs last week: Karlos Williams (110 yards) and ex-Eagle LeSean McCoy (112).  Only the Cleveland Browns have allowed more rushing yards per game than Miami (142.1).  The Eagles have allowed an opposing running back to run for more than 100 yards for the second consecutive week, and losing Jordan Hicks for the season, along with the lingering injuries of DeMeco Ryans, Kiko Alonso, and Mychal Kendricks, does not help the situation.

Advantage:  Eagles

Dolphins Running Backs:  Lamar Miller is the clear-cut No.1 running back in Miami, and, since Dan Cambell took over as head coach, Miami has been using him frequently.  Before Cambell took over, Miller had 37 rushes in four weeks, and he never had more than 13 attempts in a game or 53 yards.  In the four weeks after Cambell took over, though, he has 52 rushes combined and two games with over 100 yards rushing.  Against the Titans and Texans, he had two of the best games of his career, but he cooled down considerably the next two weeks, when he faced the Patriots and Bills and ended with a combined 21 rushes for 59 yards.  Where the Eagles have to be careful, though – if they are not going to allow they’re third consecutive 100-yard rusher – is Miller’s ability to move the ball as a receiver.  Last week, the majority of his production came off receptions (7 receptions, 97 yards), and he had only 44 yards rushing.  Miller has seen 18 targets – 12 of which came in the past two weeks when he had trouble rushing – through the four weeks after Campbell became coach, so the Eagles will need to be very cautious about this Sunday.

Eagles Running Backs:  The Eagles averaged 70 yards running in their first four games, but, now, they are averaging 173.3 yards over their last four games and have at least 150 yards in each contest.  That result has come with an ever-changing offensive line.  It’s clearly time to stop talking about who is the lead back between DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews because they are both major and generally equal contributors on the offense.  The only difference is that Ryan Matthews has more yards and touchdowns with a lot less attempts.  Over the past two games, Matthews has 17 rushes for 164 yards and two touchdowns, while Murray has 36 rushes for 148 yards and one touchdown.  However Murray has 8 receptions for 83 yards the past two games, with 6 catches for 78 yards against Dallas.  The Eagles most likely will not change their approach to utilizing the two running backs against Miami.  The only question, though, is where Darren Sproles fits in the mix – if at all.  Sproles has disappeared from the offense since a stand-out Week 1 performance.

Advantage:  Even

Score prediction:  Eagles 27, Dolphins 20

Questions/Comments?  @sean__cumming

Eagles-Cowboys Scouting Report: Previewing the NFC East Showdown

The Eagles and Cowboys meet for the second and last time in the regular season, and the game will impact who makes the playoffs in a division that is still up for grabs.  This contest is a chance for the Eagles to put the nail in the Cowboys’ coffin, while the Cowboys hope to halt a five-game losing streak that started after their Week 2 win against the Eagles.  The showdown between the Eagles and Cowboys is always one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL, and, as such, this game should be a battle to the end.

Run/pass ratio:  Both teams favor passing over running, but the Eagles have a much greater tendency to pass the ball than run.  The Eagles currently pass the ball 59% of the time against 41% rushing while the Cowboys pass the ball 53% of the time against 47% rushing.

Pass Defense:  Both defenses are relatively similar in overall passing yards allowed, but Dallas has given up 116 less yards through seven games: Dallas (1,638) and Philadelphia (1,754).  The discrepancy, however, is in how many of those yards are allowed to wide receivers, and Dallas has the distinct advantage in that statistic.  The Eagles have given up the 12th most yards to wide receivers (1,338), while Dallas has given up the third fewest (971).  That gives the advantage to Dallas’ secondary; however, it also displays that the Cowboys have had difficulty covering receiving running backs as they have given up the 7th most receiving yards to running backs.  In addition, the Eagles have the more opportunistic defense, with a league-leading 19 takeaways against 4 for Dallas.

Advantage: Cowboys

Cowboys Quarterback:  Matt Cassel is a severe downgrade from Tony Romo, who broke his clavicle in Week 2 against the Eagles when rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks sacked him.  Romo is expected to come back for the Cowboys Week 11 matchup against the Miami Dolphins, but that may be too late to save the season if they don’t win Sunday, considering that Cowboys quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have a combined 0-5 record in starts in his absence.  Brandon Weeden was subpar in replacing Romo in every game except against the Eagles, and Matt Cassel does not seem to be a noticeable improvement.  Last week, despite the defense giving him multiple opportunities to put up more than 12 points against Seattle, Cassel could not capitalize, and his final drive made him look like a rookie decision-maker.  In two starts with the Cowboys, Cassel has one touchdown against three interceptions, and, last week, Cassel completed 13 of 26 passes (52%) for 97 scoreless yards for a team that currently ranks 24th in the league in passing yards.  Against the Giants he threw for 227 yards, but his three interceptions took away what could have been a decent day.  Strangely enough, though, Matt Cassel has thrown for over 300 yards once in the past three years, and that was against the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.  Regardless, Cassel should not be a major threat against the Eagles secondary as he appears to be severely struggling to pick up the Cowboys passing concepts currently.

Eagles Quarterback:  Sam Bradford has continued his early-season struggles, and he seems to be laboring to find his identity as the quarterback on the team.  Eagles receivers have been dropping a lot of his throws, sure, but Bradford has not really displayed the ability to overcome those obstacles, and his accuracy is rarely stunning.  A recent analysis on him stated that one of the main causes of dropped balls comes from the fact that Bradford is throwing into areas where Eagles wide receivers fear they’ll take a hard hit, and this fear of ending up in a hospital bed causes them to flinch and drop the ball at the last moment.  Even though the Eagles receivers have a league-high 25 dropped passes this season, Tom Brady dealt with 11 dropped passes in Week 7 alone and was still able to throw for 355 yards and two touchdowns.  To ensure Bradford’s future success, the Eagles need to find a way to even out their tendency to pass the ball so much, ideally moving closer to a 50/50 share of run/pass, and maybe that can limit the mistakes Sam Bradford makes.  Bradford has thrown nine touchdowns against ten interceptions and has more than one interception in four of seven games but multiple touchdowns in only two.  If he can get the offense going in a solid rhythm following the bye week, though, he is still viewed as the favorable quarterback over Matt Cassel.

Advantage: Eagles

Cowboys Wide Receivers:  Dez Bryant, despite starting last week for the first time since September 13th, played 80 percent of the team’s offensive snaps.  However, even though his volume was plentiful, his production (2 receptions off 6 targets for 12 scoreless yards) was underwhelming.  However, he will be more accustomed to playing with Matt Cassel and, as a result, presumably more of a threat to the Eagles.  Bryant did not play in the first matchup against the Eagles, but he has a history of posting big numbers against the team.  The last time he faced the Eagles, he had six receptions for 114 yards and three touchdowns; and, in the past three years, he has posted 35 receptions for 581 yards and 7 touchdowns in 6 games, matchups in which the Cowboys have won 4-2. Terrance Williams led the Cowboys with 4 receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown the last time the two teams met, but, even though he is a player whom the Eagles must watch, he does not play at the same talent level as Bryant.  Thus, how the Eagles deal with Bryant, if he is fully healed, will be extremely important in determining the outcome of the game.  The other factor to be considered, though, is that the Eagles secondary leads the league in takeaways, so, against a turnover-prone quarterback, they have an advantage.

Eagles Wide Receivers:  The Eagles are still waiting for Nelson Agholor to have his breakout game, and the general hope in Philadelphia is that it occurs sooner rather than later.  The 2015 first-round pick’s production this season (8 receptions, 108 yards, zero touchdowns) is at – or, even below – what an elite receiver produces in one game.  Jordan Matthews has had two weeks to work on fixing dropped passes, so the Eagles hope he can become the No. 1 receiver that everyone projects him to be.  Surprisingly, though, over the past two games, Miles Austin, the 31-year-old ex-Dallas Cowboy playing in his first year with the Eagles, leads the team in receiving yards (112) followed by tight end Zach Ertz (106).  Jordan Matthews, in comparison, has 73 yards in the past two matchups, while Josh Huff and Darren Sproles have 24 and 34 yards, respectively.  Riley Cooper did not play against the Panthers, but he had 76 yards against the Giants and the Eagles only touchdown in the past two games.  The Eagles sorely need more touchdowns from their wide receivers.  Deciding who will be the Eagles leading receiver in any game is a shot in the dark, but Ertz and Austin will be interesting players to watch going forward based on their success before the bye.

Advantage: Even (unless Dez Bryant looks healthier than last week)

Run Defense:  The Eagles have allowed only one running back to rush for at least 100 yards: Jonathan Stewart in Week 7 with 125.  Aside from that performance, the most yards produced by a running back against the Eagles was Atlanta Falcons’ now backup running back Tevin Coleman with 80 yards in Week 1.  The Cowboys, as well, have allowed only one 100-yard rusher all season, and it was Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman in Week 3.  The Cowboys defense, like the Eagles, has been stingy in every other game in between.  Therefore, running the ball should be difficult for both teams.

Advantage: Even

Cowboys Running Backs: The Cowboys are averaging 127.9 rushing yards per game this season, ranking sixth in the league.  They are now running the ball almost entirely with Darren McFadden over the past two weeks and just released Joseph Randle, who is second in the league in yards-per-rush (5.18) among running backs with at least 100 carries since 2014.  Randle suffered an oblique strain and lost his starting position two weeks ago in the Giants game, and, recently, the team released him after he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.  In his absence, they signed Trey Williams, a 2015 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M, off the Redskins practice squad.  However, it is hard to see him, Christine Michael, or Rod Smith taking too many snaps away from McFadden.  Regardless, Williams could be a surprise for the Eagles to keep an eye on in the backfield.  McFadden had ten rushes for 31 yards when he played the Eagles in Week 2, but his role has changed drastically since then.  He has had 49 attempts in the last two weeks compared to 37 in the first five games.  He had a good performance against the Giants two weeks ago, with 152 rushing yards and a touchdown, but, last week, he was held to 64 scoreless yards by the Seahawks.  Therefore, stopping the run will largely include stopping McFadden, and, if the Eagles can stop McFadden, it’s hard to imagine Cassel winning the game for the team.

Eagles Running Backs: The Eagles are averaging a 15th ranked 114.4 rushing yards per game this season, and their average run, 4.2 yards, is only slightly below Dallas’ 4.5.  The discrepancy, however, lies in how the Eagles’ average yards vary between Ryan Matthews and DeMarco Murray.  Matthews has 56 carries to Murray’s 88, but Matthews has 342 yards against Murray’s 307.  Moreover, Matthews is averaging 6.1 yards per attempt to Murray’s 3.5, and, to put that into an even larger context, Matthew’s 6.1 average led the league heading into Week 7, slightly edging Todd Gurley (6.0 before his Week 8 matchup), who is becoming one of the best running backs in the league.  Matthew’s production created a media storm following the Eagles into their bye week regarding whether Murray or Matthews should be the starter, and, in response, it’s difficult to tell who will be the lead back, but it will be one of the most interesting factors of the game to watch.  Murray has become somewhat predictable with the runs on which he gains the most yards and has had difficulty running the outside zone.  In fact, DeMarco Murray averages 2.7 yards per carry when running over tackles or around the edge but 4.5 yards running behind the guards or up the middle.

Advantage: Even

Final Analysis:  The Eagles cannot lose a game after a bye week – with two weeks to prepare – for a backup quarterback.  The Cowboys defense will keep the game close, but I believe Matt Cassel will not be able to bring his team to victory when the game becomes a shootout in the end.

Score Prediction: 20-14 Eagles win

Questions/Comments?  Follow me: @sean__cumming

Eagles-Panthers Scouting Report: Previewing the Week 7 Matchup

The 3-3 Eagles are coming off consecutive wins against the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants in which they outscored their opponents 66-24, and they now have won three of their last four games after going 1-4 to start the season.  This week, though, they are going up against the 5-0 Carolina Panthers, who are coming off of a comeback win against the Seattle Seahawks.  When the Eagles and Panthers met last season, the Eagles handily defeated the Carolina Panthers, 45-21, scoring 31 points in the first half alone to take a 31-7 lead into the half.  This year, though, Cam Newton is not ailing from injuries that limited his production last season, such as ankle surgery, fractured ribs, or a near-fatal car crash.

The Carolina Panthers are 5-0; however, the team has benefitted from an opportunistic schedule to start the season.  The opponents they have beaten – Jaguars, Texans, Saints, Buccaneers, and Seahawks – have a combined record of 9-20.  As a result, it’s hard to judge the team at this point as they still have a lot to prove.

Run/Pass Ratio:  The Carolina Panthers rank first in the league in rushing attempts, running the ball 51-percent of the time against 49-percent passing.  That stat, however, is altered by the fact that Cam Newton has run the ball 50 times so far this season.  The Eagles, in contrast, have a 59-percent pass to 41-percent rush ratio.

Panthers vs. Eagles Pass Defense:  Both teams rank highly in yards-per-attempt allowed to opposing quarterbacks: Carolina (3rd, 6.1) and Eagles (6th, 6.6).  Yet, the Eagles have given up an average of 20 more yards-per-game to quarterbacks through the air.  Therefore, statistically speaking, the Panthers have the edge in passing defense.

Panthers QB:  The main characteristic about Cam Newton is that, as described above, he is a dual threat.  The massive 6-foot-5, 245-pound signal caller has 50 rushes this season, which is almost half the 103 he had all of last season.  On those 50 rushes, he has 225 yards and 3 touchdowns, whereas he had 539 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns all last year.  They use a variety of read options and triple options to spark Newton on the ground.

Thus, using a spy to minimize the effectiveness of a quarterback who is averaging ten rushes a game will be crucial for the Eagles.  That duty will be in large part be given to Connor Barwin, who handled the job well last year and had 3 1/2 sacks in the Eagles’ blowout win.  Overall, the Eagles held Newton to 6 yards on two rushes, but Newton was nursing an ankle injury, and his current offensive line has three new starters who are doing a much better job blocking.

Through the air, Newton has thrown for 1,078 yards in five games on a team that ranks 30th in the league in passing yards-per-game (201).  Sam Bradford, in contrast, has thrown for a 12th-ranked 1,573 yards, and the Eagles average 250 yards-per-game, ranking 14th.  Shutting down the Panthers rushing attack, then, seems more important than stopping their passing production.

Eagles QB:  Sam Bradford has not had a great start to the season, and it seems like he is making mental errors while becoming accustomed to the offense.  He does not seem to understand what his receivers are going to do when they are given option routes, and his decision making has been substandard.  He is currently tied for the second-most interceptions (9), behind only Peyton Manning (10), and that is not a statistic in which you want to be trailing Peyton Manning.  His turnovers, including five interceptions in the past two weeks, will become costly when the Eagles play more opportunistic teams than the Saints and Giants.

Cam Newton’s 83.2 passer rating is only marginally better than Bradford’s 80, but Newton has five less interceptions than Bradford.  Therefore, they’re not that different statistically through the air, except that Bradford has 1,561 yards through six games to Newton’s 1,078 through five.  However, their teams use different schemes regarding running and passing.  Sam Bradford will have to become more acclimated to the mental aspect of the offense if the Eagles want to defeat the top-tier teams in the league.

Panthers Wide Receivers:  Carolina has just 356 yards after-the-catch receiving, a production that ties the Minnesota Vikings for least in the league.  In addition, Carolina has only 14 plays that have gone for 20 yards or more, ranking last in that category, too.  6-foot-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin, who had three receptions for 70 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Eagles last season, was a revelation in his rookie season with the Panthers last year, finishing the season tied with Greg Olsen in yards (1,008) and leading the team in touchdowns with nine.  However, after tearing his left Achilles, he is out for the entire 2015 season, and no other wide receiver has filled in for his production consistently.

That leaves tight end Greg Olsen, who is seeing 29 percent of Cam Newton’s targets, as the primary receiver with little production of significance coming from any other receiver on the team.  Therefore, stopping Olsen, who had six receptions for 119 yards against the Eagles last year, will be crucial for the Eagles.  Ted Ginn could be a surprising player against the Eagles, but his targets have decreased significantly since the first two weeks of the season, and, against the Seahawks, he was second in routes run (29) to Corey Brown (35).  If the Eagles can shut down Olsen, they will likely be able to shut down the Panthers through the air.

Eagles Wide Receivers:  When the Eagles played the Panthers last season, Jordan Matthews had his best game of the season with seven receptions for 138 yards and two touchdowns.  This season, though, Matthews does not have Jeremy Maclin to draw attention away from him, and that loss is hurting his overall production.  Currently, Matthews is 14th in the league amongst all wide receivers in total targets and 13th in receptions, but he is ranked 23rd in receiving yards.  Teams are focused on limiting his yards-after-catch.  Matthews has more yards through six games this season (384) than last season (226), but he has the second most drops in the NFL.

Nelson Agholor was out last week and appears likely to miss the game this week.  In his absence, Riley Cooper, who played the fewest number of snaps amongst all receivers, became the top producer on the team.  However, it is impossible to predict how Chip Kelly will portion his snaps if Agholor is out again.  Tight end Zach Ertz received the most snaps, but his production was minimal.  Josh Huff, too, did not produce much with increased snaps, and only Miles Austin saw increased production with more snaps.  Nonetheless, how Chip Kelly will use his wide receivers against the Panthers is anyone’s guess.

Panthers vs. Eagles Rush Defense:  The Panthers rank 12th in run defense and have allowed 483 yards through five games.  They are ranked 15th in the league in rushing average (3.9).  The Eagles are ranked 8th in run defense (565 yards through six games) and 3rd in rushing average (3.5).  The teams are close is average rushing yards allowed per game: Eagles (94.2) and Panthers (96.6).

Panthers Running Backs:  After scoring zero touchdowns in Weeks 1-4, Jonathan Stewart bounced back and scored two touchdowns against the Seahawks last week.  However, his highest rushing total for the season, 78 yards, came against the Seahawks last week.  Clearly, he is not the most prolific runner in the NFL.  Stewart has 298 yards rushing this season, but Cam Newton has 225, even though Stewart has 79 rushing attempts to Newton’s 50.  They don’t have any running backs of note behind Stewart.  Therefore, the rushing attack begins and ends with Newton and Stewart.  Thanks in large part to Newton, though, who has rushed for a first down on 36-percent of his rushing attempts (18 of 50) – more than any other quarterback in the league – the Panthers are averaging 133 yards-per-game, ranking third in the league.  In comparison, the Eagles are averaging 101 yards-per-game, ranking 19th in the league.

Eagles Running Backs:  DeMarco Murray is making a significant claim on the lead-back role in Philadelphia through the past two games.  In that span, Murray has more attempts than Ryan Matthews by 42-17.  Classifying Matthews as the change-of-pace back to Murray as the featured back is a fair statement at this point.  Darren Sproles, with a combined seven rushes for 31 yards over the past two weeks, has disappeared from the backfield and, after playing on only 31-percent of the Eagles’ snaps against the Giants, was thrown to twice.  He is the primary punt returner, but it is fair to question his role outside of that duty.

Overall, Murray is playing better with increased rushes.  He had four runs of ten yards or more last week after having just five through the first five weeks.  He will likely receive around 20 attempts again against the Panthers but will go up against two top-tier linebackers: Luke Kuechly, undeniably one of the best linebackers in the league, and Thomas Davis.  On the defensive line, he’ll have to contend with Kawaan Short, who was the NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 6.  Nonetheless, he should be in line for another big game.

Score Prediction: Eagles 24, Panthers 20